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A health worker carries out an olfactory test outside Buenos Aires. Photo: Alejandro Pagni/AFP via Getty Images

The pandemic has thrust a relatively unknown ailment, anosmia — or smell loss — into the international spotlight.

Why it matters: Researchers hope smell testing becomes as standard as the annual flu shot, helping to detect early signs of neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.

  • "Loss of smell is associated with so many different health conditions," olfactory researcher Pamela Dalton told Axios. "It’s something we should be checking."

The big picture: Severe or complete smell loss — which impacts roughly 3% of the 40+ U.S. population — has devastating effects, making sufferers feel ostracized, isolated in social settings, and unable to fully taste or enjoy food.

  • There are few tools to diagnose and treat it.

Now a growing group of people who haven't recovered their sense of smell months after having COVID are joining these ranks.

  • Studies suggest that a majority of people who get COVID-19 experience smell loss. For most of them, it's temporary. But at least 5% seem to have long-term loss.
Chart: Axios Visuals
  • This has public health and safety implications ranging from depression to not being able to sense danger like fire.

What’s next: Innovation in the smell space could make smell testing more accessible, identify treatments and improve quality of life for a significant part of the population.

  • While smell testing currently exists, it's not widely used and can be expensive, employing dozens of odors, Dalton, who works at Monell Chemical Senses Center, told Axios.
  • The Center, based in Philadelphia, received an NIH grant at the end of last year to research the effectiveness of a "lift and sniff" test that has just one odor and could be used to rapidly detect COVID.
  • Another study is looking into at-home scratch-and-sniff tests.

Yes, but: There are concerns about the limitations of diagnostic smell tests, as the New York Times has reported.

What's next: Cyrano Therapeutics, a Washington, D.C.-based medicine company, is researching a nasal spray for anosmia, with randomized trials set to start next year.

  • Clinical trials by Washington University School of Medicine aim to test multiple therapies for COVID-related smell loss: a nasal rinse and a specific type of smell training (regularly inhaling certain scents) that incorporates visuals and "patient-preferred scents" rather than pre-determined odors.

Go deeper

U.S. women's soccer team beats Netherlands, moves on to Olympic semifinals

Members of the U.S. women's soccer team celebrate after beating the Netherlands. Photo: Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images

The U.S. women's soccer team beat the Netherlands in a penalty kick shootout on Friday, propelling them to the semifinals of the Olympic Games.

Why it matters: The win brings the U.S. team one step closer to its quest for a historic back-to-back double — winning the Olympics after emerging victorious at the Women's World Cup. The U.S. will play Canada in the semifinals next week.

Dan Primack, author of Pro Rata
50 mins ago - World

SEC clamps down on Chinese IPOs

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Chinese companies will be unable to go public in the U.S. unless they make new risk disclosures, according to a statement released Friday morning from SEC chair Gary Gensler.

Why it matters: Chinese companies, and tech startups in particular, are already under growing pressure from their own government. Now they're also getting squeezed by U.S. officials.

1 hour ago - Sports

U.S. swimmer Ryan Murphy causes stir with doping comments

Bronze medallist Britain's Luke Greenbank, gold medallist Russia's Evgeny Rylov and silver medallist USA's Ryan Murphy pose with their medals after the final of the men's 200m backstroke. Photo: Jonathan Nackstrand /AFP via Getty Images

U.S. swimmer Ryan Murphy raised questions about the presence of doping in swimming following a second-place finish in the men's 200-meter backstroke on Thursday.

Driving the news: Murphy, who won gold in the 200-meter backstroke race in Rio, said following his race: "At the end of the day, I do believe there’s doping in swimming. That is what it is."